How to Choose a Guitar

The following key issues are critical in selecting your guitar and even more so if you’re selecting it for your child. As a parent, grandparent or caregiver, you fulfill many important roles in your child’s life. Your gift and provision of music, encouragement and confidence can last a lifetime. Having an appropriately sized and adjusted instrument is the best way to start. Each item below will give you new insight and help guarantee your success in accomplishing your musical desires.

Most importantly, only select a guitar you know is fully inspected and adjusted for easy playability, accuracy in tuning, intonation and tone production.

Many important issues rest on the quality and playability of your instrument. Always get the facts. Ask what has been done to make the instrument easy to play. There is no greater impedance to progress, developing proper technique and the enjoyment of learning to play than a poorly constructed instrument or one that is not correctly set up.

Select the following links for more information:
FirstGuitar Inspection and Adjustment Process - Acoustic Guitars
FirstGuitar Inspection and Adjustment Process - Electric Guitars

Choose the kind of guitar that interests you the most. This way you will be more motivated to play.

Many people mistakenly purchase an inexpensive acoustic guitar when they may really want an electric guitar. Often they are afraid they or their child will not stick with it. This is almost like buying a guarantee for failure. A cheaply made acoustic guitar will certainly lead you to quit because it is physically just too hard to play and coupled with the fact its not what you really wanted in the first place. Also, the technical approach for the electric, acoustic or classical guitar is different. In other words, if you master the acoustic guitar it will not necessarily translate well to the electric guitar. The next time you go to a concert or watch videos of your favorite bands and performers, notice the technical and musical way the instruments are being played is not the same when an acoustic guitar is being played and when a electric guitar is being played. The chords, notes and scales may look the same but the approach to playing the chords, notes and scales is different. Choose the kind of guitar you are most interested in playing.

Select the following links for more information:
Should I buy an electric or acoustic guitar?
Should I choose a nylon or steel string guitar?

Select the right size guitar.

This is especially true for children. A guitar that is too large will make it difficult for your child to make the proper reach with both the right and left hands. Having their arm as high as their shoulder to reach over the guitar can become uncomfortable and at worst painful. Over reaching for the first fret puts them at a great technical disadvantage because their muscles are already stretched out making it difficult to properly move their fingers on the fingerboard. Generally, adults are comfortable with full size guitars.

Select the following link for more information:
What size guitar is right for me or my child?

Select a guitar that does not sell at the bottom of the price barrel.

This may seem a little difficult without giving you numbers but the old adage is almost always true, “You get what you pay for”. Sometimes you even get less. As a general rule, cheaply made guitars are not really playable or adjustable. They are not worth your time or money.

Avoid guitars and packages that promise to be a tremendous value for an amazingly low price.

The old saying,“ If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is”, is a good guide. You should see red flags when presented with guitar packages valued at $800.00 and selling for only $199.00. The difference between the value and the selling price is too great. If it sells for $199.00 then that’s about what it may be worth but not worth buying. The “$800.00 value package” would have to contain cheaply made products to only sell for $199.00. A $289.00 package at $199.00 is a much more realistic price.

Do not fall into the so-called major "Brand Name" trap.

Most major brand name companies compete with minor brand name companies for the entry and intermediate level player. Smaller brand name companies rely less on media advertising and more on dealer support and knowledge. These companies may even specialize in the entry and intermediate entry levels where as the major brands specialty is higher priced professional instruments. Obviously the cost of media advertising is included in the overall cost of the instrument. You may end up paying more for the brand name while the quality is the same or paying a competitive price for an instrument of less quality. A brand name guitar does not guarantee it to be a better guitar. As a side note, many major brand guitar makers provide free guitars to recording artist to use in concert, which is a very effective marketing tool. The fans that play guitar or want to begin playing the guitar associate the name brand with their favorite performers, not realizing that the expensive instruments they use share very little (except the name) with the entry level models.

Select a guitar with a finish and color you enjoy.

Having a guitar that not only plays and sounds well but also appeals to you visually can greatly contribute to your motivation to play and practice.

Be sure to include an electronic tuner when you select your guitar.

A tuner is about as important as having picks and strings. Keeping your guitar tuned to standard pitch is important for several reasons. First, guitars are manufactured and set-up to withstand the tension of standard pitch, which produces the best musical tone. Second, guitars are initially set-up and adjusted for standard pitch and third, standard pitch is the musical standard for most instruments. If your guitar is tuned too high above standard pitch the excessive tension can damage your instrument and at the very least break your strings. As opposed to excessively high tension, allowing your guitar to fall too far below standard pitch can cause the neck to move backward resulting in unacceptable string buzz against the frets. This can usually be remedied by tuning back to standard pitch and if necessary, by re-adjusting the truss rod.

A guitar tuner contributes to ear training.

But perhaps most importantly, a guitar tuner actually helps you develop your musical ear much more quickly than learning to tune by ear alone. A guitar tuner saves valuable time and frustration so you can stay focused on your music. Learning to tune your guitar by ear is a trial and error method largely due to the fact the ear has not been trained to selectively detect slight pitch changes between matching tones during the tuning process. Often your guitar will seem reasonably tuned when in fact it may not be. You may not even tune your guitar as often because it seems OK. The problem is your ear becomes accustomed to less than adequate tuning which prolongs your ear training development. When you use a tuner daily your ear quickly becomes accustomed to accurate tuning and you are more apt to notice when your guitar is even slightly out of tune. As a result your ears develop much more quickly.

How to Choose the Right Guitar, Part II

Overview

  • Tuning machines should operate smoothly.
  • Neck joint and heel should look and feel secure.
  • The wooden bridge should be securely glued to the top.
  • The fingerboard should be level with the top of the guitar.
  • Most guitars should have an adjustable truss rod.
  • String height at the nut above the first fret should be very low.
  • Overall string height above the fingerboard should be low.

The following items will help you become more aware of what to look for in a quality, adjustable instrument and one that is inspected and properly adjusted.

The tuning machines should operate smoothly and accurately with the strings wound properly around the tuning post.

Tuning gears of less quality may tune a guitar accurately but will require more time and effort and is generally a difficult task for the uninitiated player.

The neck joint and heel should be stable and secure with no finish cracks around the joint for all guitars with set-in necks.

Electric guitars with bolt on necks should also be stable and secure with no finish cracks where the neck and body join.

For acoustic guitars, the wood bridge should be securely glued with no open gaps.

Except for children’s guitars, there should be no round pearled or black dots that conceal nuts and bolts to hold the bridge on!

The bridge hardware on electric guitars should be secure and stable.

The adjustment screws in the saddles should fit firmly but not tight. Lesser quality hardware tends to have loosely fitting adjustment screws, which can easily become stripped.

The neck should be reasonably level with the top of an acoustic guitar.

Neck angles that are too far forward or backward will tend to have or develop adjustment problems. A helpful visual indicator of a good neck angle is a bridge that is about as high off the top or soundboard of the guitar as the fingerboard. An extremely high saddle on the bridge may indicate a neck angle that is too far back.

A functional truss rod will usually make slight changes in a neck with as little as a 1/4 to 3/4's of a turn.

A functioning truss rod is important for periodically adjusting the neck/fingerboard when necessary to help keep your guitar playing easily. Classical, or nylon string guitars, traditionally do not have truss rods as these guitars are under less tension than steel string guitars. However, some full size classical intermediate guitars include an adjustable truss rod.

String height or action at the nut should be low at the first fret, which results in all six strings being easy to play.

This is necessary for all guitars and even more so for children's guitars which are generally unplayable before they are adjusted. A good test is to use your 4th finger (pinkie or smallest finger) to gently push down one string at a time at the first fret. The string should not bend excessively. There should be little effort to play the note and the tone should be clear. If this task is difficult to perform, then the guitar may not be properly adjusted. A child would find it almost impossible to play.

The bridge saddle suspends the strings over the length of the fingerboard.

A properly adjusted saddle or individual saddles for the electric guitar, will suspend the strings high enough to have minimal to no rattle or string buzz along the length of the fingerboard but low enough to be relatively easy to play. The strings by necessity have to be higher along the fingerboard than at the first fret to create room for the vibration arc of the strings. Strings that are too high above the fingerboard are not only difficult to play but also cause the strings to be stretched or pushed out of tune when attempting to play notes and chords along the length of the fingerboard.

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